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Chiefaholic
08-25-2000, 12:34 AM
Eddie Robinson returns to KC victory scene
By BLAIR KERKHOFF - The Kansas City Star www.kcstar.com/sports (http://www.kcstar.com/sports)

He coached 588 games over 55 years. So you could hardly expect Grambling legend Eddie Robinson to dig down and pluck out a specific recollection, much less a detail, from a game stuck in the middle of the pile from 28 years ago.

Right?

"Long pass, about 30 yards I think, to Sammie White to win the game," Robinson said. "They had tied us late. It was one of those back-and-forth games. There were a couple of late turnovers in there. We felt good about winning it."

Gee, Robinson's memory is fading. That touchdown pass officially went 29 yards to White, who later starred with the Minnesota Vikings.

It gave Grambling a 27-21 victory over Mississippi Valley State in 1972 in the first college football game at Arrowhead Stadium.

Robinson returns to Arrowhead this weekend to watch the game that bears his name, as the fourth Eddie Robinson Classic pits Kansas State against Iowa. Robinson will be feted and toasted throughout his stay. It's Kansas City's chance to honor a coach whose 408 victories are 44 more than anybody else who has coached the college game, and almost 100 more than anyone at Division I-A.

Although only one of those victories came in Kansas City, Robinson left his mark on the city through the players he sent here. Ten Grambling Tigers have been Chiefs, including Hall of Fame defensive tackle Buck Buchanan and Albert Lewis, one of the team's great defensive backs.

In all, Robinson sent more than 200 Tigers to the NFL and AFL. The first NFL player from a historically black college, Tank Younger, played for Robinson. So did the first black quarterback in a Super Bowl, current Grambling coach Doug Williams. Grambling played in the first televised game between historically black schools.

"No one in the history of football has done more for the college game than Eddie Robinson," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said.

Grambling's travels

So how did Robinson and Grambling come to schedule that '72 game in Arrowhead?

"You know, that's a good question," Robinson said.

"I really can't remember," said Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. "Over the years we've talked about trying to establish a `classic' game between historically black colleges, but it's never come about."

It was a one-time deal. Arrowhead had just opened. The Chiefs had played four preseason games and one regular-season game in their new home when the colleges met on the afternoon of Oct. 14.

Grambling had a history of taking games to distant fans. Two years earlier, more than 74,000 at Yankee Stadium watched Grambling vs. Morgan State. The week before the Tigers played in Kansas City, more than 63,000 watched another Morgan State game in New York.

In 1972, Grambling took to the road regularly. The Arrowhead game was one of seven the Tigers played at neutral sites. From Kansas City, the Tigers went to Hawaii.

"For kids from small towns in Louisiana it was always exciting," said Lee Fobbs, a Grambling running back in the early 1970s and currently a Baylor assistant. "By the time you were a senior at Grambling, you'd been just about everywhere."

Traveling served several purposes. Not only did it expose kids from small Southern towns to the bright lights of big cities, but Robinson used the occasions to teach lessons away from the field.

"We talked about how to present ourselves in hotels and restaurants," Fobbs said. "And there often was a side trip where we'd see things, maybe historical things, that we'd never have a chance to see without football."

And fans across America got to see a team that was gaining stature.

"There have always been great teams from historically black schools, but there wasn't a national black team," said Collie Nicholson, Grambling's sports information director for 31 years of Robinson's tenure. "We felt if coach Robinson could keep winning, we could develop that following and reach a point where people across black America would be excited when we came to town.

"In a way, we became the black Notre Dame."

Game day at Arrowhead

Kansas City did what it could to make the Grambling game work.

Tickets ranged from $3 to $10. Several corporate sponsors kicked in to buy about 400 tickets for kids, who were able to make a big day of it. Food services provided hot dogs, chips and sodas, and a bus company gave free rides from downtown.

Ollie Gates even picked up the parking tab for the buses.

But the city's attention was spread that day. Kansas and Kansas State were playing, and the World Series involving the now-Oakland Athletics was going on. A crowd of 9,381 was announced at 79,000-seat Arrowhead.

But they saw a wonderful game, and even a hometown hero in action. Grambling's Mike Jones, a wingback who played at Southeast High, rushed for 36 yards.

"I'll tell you what else I remember about that day," Robinson said. "Sammie White had a big game for us, and he had some physical problems after the game. The trainer asked me if he could go out and get him.

"We hired that trainer just for that game. He asked us before the game if he could be our trainer, and I said, `Yeah, we could use you.' Turned out, we did use him."

A good idea

Kansas State-Iowa will be only the third college football game at Arrowhead. The Big 12 championship game in December will be the fourth. Hunt and the Chiefs have always been on the lookout for college games, but the closest schools, Kansas and Missouri, have repeatedly said `no thanks' to bringing their meeting to neutral turf.

It took Nebraska and Oklahoma State in 1998 to show Kansas City what it's been missing all those years. The Cornhuskers eked out a victory on a last-play goal-line defensive stand in front of 79,555.

K-State and Iowa could pull in that many customers Saturday. The game is close to a sellout.

Robinson's not likely to play favorites Saturday, but he does have a direct link with Iowa. Robinson attended graduate school there and picked up ideas on running the single wing from Hawkeyes coach Eddie Anderson.

From there, he put in a lifetime of work at Grambling -- which includes a perfect record in Kansas City.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, college sports reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4730 or send e-mail to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com
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